Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 27, 2012

The Detour (2010), by Gerbrand Bakker, Translated by David Colmer

Cover: Australian edition (Scribe)

Eerie, and unputdownable.

It’s really hard to write much about Gerhard Bakker’s latest novel The Detour, without giving anything away.  It reminded me in a way of another translated work that explored a young woman’s state of mind, but I’m not even going to name that one in case that becomes a spoiler. (So you have been warned, click that link at your peril!)

This is part of the blurb from the Scribe website:

A woman abandons her home in Holland without a word, leaving behind an impervious husband, mystified parents, and an unfinished thesis on reclusive poet Emily Dickinson. Across the sea in Britain, she arrives at an isolated cottage in the shadow of a mountain. She settles there, alone in the ancient landscape, her only contact coming from animals she encounters, a handful of wary locals, and her poetry books. But what is she fleeing? And will her new home provide redemption, or lead her further into darkness?

On a foggy afternoon, her solitude is shattered when an elusive young man jumps over her fence. Perhaps his vitality can deter the shadows, but in this uncanny place the line between kindness and betrayal is never clear.

Meanwhile, the woman’s husband is coming, and time is running out….

It seems all wrong to describe anything by Bakker as a psychological drama, because his prose (so beautifully translated by Australian David Colmer) is so quiet, so restrained.  The reader is lured into an intensely private world in a desolate landscape but not told any reasons for the woman’s mystifying departure from her home.  There are intriguing scenes with her husband, and even more intriguing ones that depict a parental  reaction that seems incomprehensible.  Some of the woman’s actions seem at odds with what the reader eventually suspects is her intention.  The young man who turns up seems to exercise a control over her that is a complete contrast to the way she allows contact from the small cast of other characters.

I’m sorry if this review seems unnecessarily enigmatic, but I do think this title would be a great choice for book groups who would enjoy teasing out the plot and discussing the issues it raises.  The climax is breathtaking.  It’s a great novel, a worthy successor to Bakker’s award-winning The Twin.  (See my review.)

A word about the cover image on the Australian edition, published by Scribe (see above):  it’s much better than the UK cover image (see below).  Yes, there are geese in the story and yes, they are symbolic, but that doesn’t mean the cover deserves an inane flock of ’em!  While I didn’t find the Aussie cover particularly enticing before I started reading, once I had started, I found it utterly compelling.  This girl on the front cover became the young woman in the story, and as my sense of unease grew, I kept coming back to the cover, and trying to ‘read’ the expression on her face.   This cover really conveys the sense of psychological isolation, her frailty and the landscape.  But is that expression indecision or calm resolution?  I still can’t decide.  The name of the designer at Scribe isn’t credited, and the photo is from a stock image site called Mirjan Rooze but I say ‘well done’  to whoever it was that chose this image!

Author: Gerhard Bakker
Title: The Detour
Translated by David Colmer
Publisher: Scribe 2012
ISBN: 978192844652
Source: review copy courtesy of Scribe

The DetourAvailability:
Fishpond: The Detour (the title link is for the Australian edition, cover above, the book cover image link is to the UK edition with a different cover)
Or direct from Scribe where it is also available as an eBook.


  1. This sounds right up my alley, thanks for your enticing review! It could be very different but the aspect of isolation and the female reminds me of TC Boyle’s San Miguel, which I just read and really enjoyed. I think it’s a great challenge for a writer to write about solitude and/or isolation and make it interesting.


    • Hi Angela, good to hear from you. I must check out that TC Boyle, I’ve only read one of his (Talk, Talk) but I really enjoyed it. Have you reviewed San Miguel? I’ve just had a hunt on your blog and couldn’t find it. PS Loved your review of HHR’s Fortunes of Richard Mahoney, it’s always great to find another enthusiast!


      • I’m afraid I didn’t review San Miguel, sorry! I thought about it, and it’s still sitting by my desk, but I haven’t gotten to it and feel I may not, now. I did really like it, it’s a slow burner (in a good way). It’s much more about characters and place than ‘plot’. And thanks re Fortunes of Richard Mahony: an incredible book. I’m so, so glad I read it!


        • Now that I’ve looked properly, I see at GoodReads that there’s a lot of TC Boyle’s books to work through, he’s really prolific…


          • There is! And they all sound quite different. I have When the Killing’s Done and Drop City here too, which I’ll check out one day.


            • I think I might start with Drop City, it’s on the list of 1001 Books I need to read before I die LOL


  2. Thanks for alerting me to this — I really enjoyed This Twin so will be sure to look out for this one


  3. This is one of my favourite books of the last twelve months – your review has made me want to read it again.


    • Hello Melanie, thanks for dropping by – and having read your book Berlin Syndrome, I think I can guess why this one appeals to you. But what synchronicity, your book turned up today as I was putting The Detour away – I found it mis-shelved in amongst the international fiction instead of on my Australian shelf! It’s back where it belongs now, next to Elizabeth Jolley:)


  4. Hello Lisa. Yes, The Detour is just my kind of book, as was The Twin (and these books for some reason bring another favourite to mind – Damon Galgut’s In a Strange Room). Thank you for your kind review of Berlin Syndrome that gave nothing away. Can’t say I ever imagined a book of mine getting close to Elizabeth Jolley’s, but am rather pleased it snuck in there on your shelf.


    • I didn’t mean to be mysterious – not sure why, but my comment came up under my old WordPress account – neocosmonaut.


      • How odd! Anyway, I’ve fixed it:)


    • Oh yes, that strangely haunting book by Damon Galgut too!


  5. I loved this one as well Bakker is such a compelling writer and this was so different to the twin can’t wait to see what he does next myself ,all the best stu


  6. Thanks Lisa. After reading The Twin, I would like to read more of his work. This sounds great.


    • Helen, there you are, my mate Stu thought it was great too – you can’t get a better recommendation than that!


  7. […] Bakker: The Detour (David Colmer; Dutch), and published by Harvill Secker – review from ANZ Lit Lovers […]


  8. […] Opinions: ANZ Litlovers, Popcorn Reads, Cerebral Girl, Bibliophile by the Sea, Tony’s Reading List, […]


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